The Scripture we read this morning tells us of a young king Called Josiah. He was only eight years old when he became king. The text we just read happened when Josiah was 26 years of age. Let us look further into the background of this remarkable event.
The Impending Judgment of God
The Lord God was very angry against the Jewish nation. Josiah’s grandfather, Manasseh, was the most wicked ruler that Judah had ever had. The fact that he reigned 55 years as king meant that two entire generations had been influenced by this evil ruler. Only the eldest of the people of Judah could even remember the godly king Hezekiah and the great deliverance God had granted the Jewish people from the Assyrians.
This same king Manasseh was only twelve when he became king. From Scripture we read that Hezekiah was about to die and pleaded with God who granted him fifteen years more life. The Scripture also states that this same Hezekiah did not return the benefit which was given him. A simple case of arithmetic states that this Manasseh would have never been born if these fifteen years had not been granted.
When Hezekiah was confronted by Isaiah the prophet who foretold the Babylonian captivity of Israel, Hezekiah was only concerned for his generation. He thought it was OK, just as long as it didn’t happen on his watch. Imagine a young son observing his father’s lack of concern and diligence. There was no intercessory prayer. There was no care to raise the future king in the fear of the Lord.
Hezekiah knew he was going to die after 15 years. What did he do with Manasseh? Obviously, not enough. Manasseh became far more evil than his father had been good. He filled all of Jerusalem with innocent blood. He placed a statue of Baal in the temple of God in Jerusalem. He worshipped the stars of heaven. In fact, he did everything that God had removed the ten tribes of Israel for committing. God was so angry that He was determined to remove Judah from their land and lead them captive to Babylon. As a foretaste of this, He allowed Manasseh to be captured and led away captive. Manasseh did repent after a sort, and God released him from captivity. And although he undid some of the damage he had created, the nation of Judah was in spiritual ruin when Manasseh died. His son Amon followed in his father’s evil ways. After two years, Amon was murdered and his eight year old son took the throne.
The Grace of God Shown
In the young king Josiah, one sees the grace of God at work. The Bible says that this child king grew up seeking the way of the Lord God of Israel. Even though God was angry with Judah, especially with the shedding of innocent blood, God gave Judah one more chance. God showed grace to the nation.
How was God’s grace shown? In one sense it was shown directly by God’s preparing the young Josiah’s heart to be receptive to Him. When one thinks of the direct action of God’s grace, we think of Josiah’s contemporary, the prophet Jeremiah whom the Lord also called as a boy, even from his mother’s womb. Another example of this direct act of grace is in John Wesley. When John was young, the parsonage at Epworth where his father was pasturing caught on fire. Everyone got out but John. Everyone thought he was burned up in the fire. But at the last possible second, John was rescued. As he recalls it, he was a brand plucked from the fire. God had a work for young John to do, so He spared him. This is the direct act of grace.
But there was another means of grace shown in John’s life, namely a godly mother who taught him to pray and seek God, to read the Scripture, and to live right. This is the grace of God applied indirectly. Yes it is still God’s grace, even though it came through the work of someone else. But who can bestow grace unless grace had been bestowed on them. It does show our responsibility to be open to God’s grace working through us.
In Josiah’s case, he was too young to rule outright. In these cases, he would be assigned tutors to help him rule until he was mature enough to rule in his own right. Who were Josiah’s tutors? Some of them must have been godly men and women who helped prepare the young boy’s heart to turn to the Lord God as much as Manasseh’s tutors inclined that king to wickedness. One should never underestimate the example of a godly life or the terrible effects or a wicked life on others.
The complete work of grace in Josiah through the direct action of God on the young boy as well as through his godly tutors bore rich fruit. It says when the young boy was sixteen, he started to clean up the mess his father and grandfather had made. He started to make repairs to the Temple, he removed all the carved idols and the altars dedicated to Baal. He executed the priests of Baal. In other words, Josiah did everything he knew to make it right.
The Work of True Repentance
Sometime in the process of repairing the Temple, a copy of the Law was found. The Word of God had been neglected under the reigns of Manasseh and Amon. For sixty years, the truth of God was forgotten as the priests neglected the service of Jehovah for serving Baal and the gods of the other nations around them. The priests immediately took the book to Josiah who had it read. What he heard frightened him to death. He knew that what had been going on for religion for as long as anyone could remember was a
complete travesty and abomination before God. The Law had said that God would severely punish his people for doing these things. He immediately consulted a prophetess of the Lord.
The answer of the prophetess which she got from the Lord confirmed the Lord’s anger was kindled and burning hot. Yet there was a word of promise in is as well. Josiah would not live to see the day that the nation of Judah would be taken in chains to Babylon and the city of Jerusalem broken down and the Temple burnt. Yet unlike his great‐grandfather Hezekiah who received similar news in a lackadaisical matter, Josiah did something about it. He was determined to bring Judah back to the covenant which God had made with them. This is the true work of repentance. It is not just satisfied with one’s own promise and security. It seeks to bring others along. It goes beyond the faith of Lot who was contented to live a righteous life in private and did not try to convert and save the wicked Sodomites. He was king. He was responsible and took responsibility to lead Judah. This is the king or pastor after God’s heart.
Getting Back to Basics
Israel’s identity was centered in God’s deliverance of them from Egypt. And the very ceremony they were supposed to celebrate every spring to remember this, the Passover, had been neglected for many years, perhaps hundreds of years. We just do not hear much about Passover in Scripture after the time of Moses. The Passover was supposed to be the New Year for them. Instead, they had been celebrating the Babylonian New Year six months later. Isn’t it amazing how God and the world always seem to be
180 degrees out of step. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh, and Jonah takes the first ship in the opposite direction.
If Israel continued to neglect its roots and forget Whose they were and where they came from, they were going to cease to exist as a people. When God’s people get so worldly that no one can tell them apart from the world, then they are in mortal danger. The ten other tribes of Israel had been taken captive and lost to history. We know a few of them mixed with some of the pagans to become the Samaritans. But what happened to the others? Did they just merge with the rest of the world and became lost to history?
Josiah reinstituted the Passover. He also sent priests to teach the Word of God to the people. And even though he did not succeed in turning the hearts of the people enough to save them from the captivity in Babylon, he did help to save their identity as a people. They survived to come home. The promise of God was not extinguished. God’s grace was at work through Josiah to save a remnant. And from the remnant was born Jesus Christ.
Where Do We Go From Here
Here we are this morning at Chestuee celebrating homecoming. In a sense we are remembering what God has done here. We remember the Gary Gatlin’s, the Mama Goins’s, and others saints who have gone on before. We remember that God has been here for us through thick and thin. And we realize that we must pass on the torch to future generations. We dare not let our young people forget. If we do, then darkness will swallow them up. Judgment will come. Let’s covenant together to stop this before it’s too late. God forbid that sometime in the future someone finds a Bible in a dilapidated church and says,“What is this book.” We are under direct assault from Satan. We are in danger of mixing our Christian faith with worldly practices. We are quickly losing our identity. To counteract this, we need to take up God's book, the Bible and learn from it what God expects from us. Then we must put it into practice, just like Josiah did. Perhaps then we can escape God's judgment. May God grant us repentance this morning
We must also remember that a judgment far worse than the Babylonian captivity is impending if we fail now. We remember the final judgment from which there is no escape for those who are not ready. If we do not act quickly, the captivity that is coming will not be for seventy years, but eternity. It is time for the church of the living God to wake up from its slumber. We need to rise above Hezekiah who was content that his needs were met. We need, as God leads us to be means to the grace which God has shown us through Jesus Christ. The same Jesus who directly shows us God’s grace in His dying on the cross for our sin also calls us to dispense this grace indirectly by being His witnesses. He commands us to go into the world and make disciples of everyone. We need to be Josiah’s. We need to proclaim God’s glory and holiness. We have to be good examples of Jesus Christ in holiness of life and heart. Faith must work though love in our lives. How could we do less? Rise up, O men of God! Be done with lesser things! Let us remember the words in the Westminster Confession of Faith that our chief purpose on earth is to “Glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. It is not to enjoy ourselves forever.
We close with the reminder from Hebrews, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation."
Preached at Chestuee United Methodist Church, Cleveland, TN July 2004